Love My Dentist

I love my dentist! When is the last time you could say that about yours?

True, dentists do tend to get a bad rap (remember Steve Martin's sadistic character in the movie, Little Shop of Horrors?). But even real-life visits to the dentist aren't high on the list of relaxing things to do.

So what does my dentist have to do with marketing? Everything. And the reasons why my dentist has more private pay clients than they can handle and is a referral-receiving machine, are marketing lessons we can all take to the bank.

This is not so much about how to market a dental practice, as it is an illustration of how smart marketing strategy can permeate every aspect of a busy professional service firm.

During my last appointment, Dr. Penski and I talked about her practice and approach to marketing. Here's what I learned:

Clear Positioning:

Fresh out of Georgetown University's Dental School, she couldn't get funding for her vision of a practice that would cater to women. In her words, "Anger was a great motivator," so she set out to fulfill her dream by catering to private-pay professional women and moms, two very influential forces when it comes to how families spend their dental dollars.

From the start, she and her business partner knew they would best serve this niche by offering "dentistry with a caring touch." This vision permeates everything, setting a baseline for how they package and promote their services, their approach to sales, the care they provide, and day-to-day performance for the entire staff.

Thoughtful Packaging:

Dr. Penski explained how they created their practice "identity" on a dime. Over dinner with spouses, the couples discussed how to "package" the new practice including uniforms, office decor, business stationary, and welcome brochure. A husband suggested they use the symbol of a fern, since it was "old, natural, and graceful -- just like they were!" The silhouette of a fern, plucked from Dr. Penski's garden and created on her copy machine, shows up everywhere.

Nature is also the theme in the waiting room where you can relax browsing nature art books, listen to soothing spa music and a fountain, and enjoy an herbal neck wrap. The caring touch is reinforced with an album bursting with patient letters, baby announcements, wedding photos, and thank you cards. A photo album of before and after shots demonstrates credibility in yet another way.

Smart Promotion:

I found Dr. Penski on the Washingtonian Magazine list of top dentists. A smart place to appear, if you're catering to professional women in DC. I immediately knew something was different when the receptionist told me that my first appointment would be for the doctor to get to know me first, as well as assess my dental needs.

The day after I made my first appointment, I received a "Welcome to our Practice" package, that included a simple but sincere welcome brochure, medical and insurance forms to complete before my appointment, a health assessment that also asked me, "If there was one thing you could change about your smile, what would it be?" and clear payment policy.

All of these things served to set a standard, manage my expectations, welcome me, and connect with me before my appointment. It was also a smart way to start up-selling me even before my first visit.

Sophisticated Persuasion:

The practice takes a phased approach to bringing a new patient on board. This is also a sophisticated way to build trust and encourage further use of their services. The first appointment was all about assessment and relationship-building. In addition to the most thorough, tooth-by-tooth assessment and set of x-rays I've ever experienced, Dr. Penski took her time getting to know me as a person, about my background, and my concerns or fears about going to the dentist. When I mentioned an interest in whitening my smile, she talked me out of it, showing me how it would look unnatural. My trust in her credibility and interest in my wellbeing continued to deepen.

I asked Dr. Penski why, in 30+ years of regular dental care, was this the first time I'd ever received this thorough of a check-up? Her response: they break all the prescribed rules for how much time to spend with each patient, which gives them the freedom to be as thorough as possible.

The business model works because they spend more time with higher-paying clients, who specifically value the approach Dr. Penski and her partner take. They don't have to make up for lower insurance reimbursements with a higher volume of patients. There is an overall atmosphere of calm, nurturing focus on each patient. Everyone wins.

Before leaving, my second and third appointments were set up for cleaning and another minor procedure. I was up-sold on the spot and happy about it!

Relationship-Building Performance:

Dr. Penski explained that the cornerstone to the practice is their daily all-staff meeting. Held every morning, they discuss each patient coming in that day as a whole person: her dental treatment, what's going on in her life, what issues or fears she might have about today's procedure, and other things that matter to her experience and treatment. The meetings serve to center and refresh the doctors and staff every day, so that they're really focused on each person as an individual when she arrives.

The caring approach and relationship-building performance continued with a follow-up call to see if I had any questions from my first appointment and to provide me contact info for a new doctor referral I mentioned needing as I was leaving.

Never did I think I'd become a raving fan of my dentist, but there you have it!

When I asked Dr. Penski about what they specifically do to market the practice, she said, "We don't have to market!" The truth is, they market every day because of how they choose to run their practice.

Here are some ideas you can borrow to create your own raving fans:

1) Pick a clear niche that you really want to serve and go after it. You've got to really love your niche, or your efforts to penetrate this niche will ring hollow and fall flat.

As important: make sure your niche has money to spend and is willing to pay for what you can deliver.

2) Think of ways you can start the marketing process before you even meet new prospects. How do you want them to first know about you (i.e., on the Top 10 List of something that matters to your target audience)? What will build your perceived credibility in the eyes of your target audience (i.e., the album of patient thank you notes and photos in the waitin room)?

Surprisingly, Dr. Penski's practice does not have a website, which is an essential marketing tool for any professional service firm! But that doesn't stop them from doing the same things offline through low-cost printed materials and other credibility-raising, trust-building tools. It's how you use these tools that matters.

3) One you've got their attention, what can you do, say or send that will invite prospects to connect with you and set the standard that you are different (i.e., a Welcome Package, self-assessment or maybe a "Checklist to Help You Pick the Right CPA for Your Business")?

4) Be consistent. Does what your firm stands for permeate everything you say, do, offer, print, show and produce? You don't have to have a big marketing budget to infuse your vision into everything you do.

5) Invest in relationships. Would you rather have as many higher-paying, appreciative clients as you choose or be constantly running to keep up with lower-paying, high-maintenance volume? It's a choice you have.

6) Pay attention to the details. Clients who are willing to pay good money for your professional services will not stick around if you don't attend to the details. Dr. Penski's daily staff meeting is her vehicle for making sure nothing falls through the cracks. What's yours?

No website, home-grown graphic design, far fewer patients per hour than recommended, chatty staff and personal relationships with patients...

Is this any way to run a professional service firm? You bet!

(c) 2004 TurningPointe Marketing, Inc. All rights reserved.
Marketing educator, Kelly O'Brien, is creator of the "Create a
TurningPointe!" Marketing Bootcamp. To learn more about this step-by-step
program, and to sign up for FREE how-to articles and 20-page marketing
guide, visit marketing.com">http://www.turningpoin temarketing.com

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